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principle of effability

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  2. > Paired Construction - Quotative

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The linguistic principle that any thought a person can have "can be expressed by some sentence in any natural language," and that anything which can be expressed in one language can also be expressed in another.

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Proposed by philosopher Jerrold Katz in "Effability and Translation" (1978)

Examples and Observations:

  • "Many authors advocate a principle of effability, according to which a natural language can express anything that can be thought. A natural language is supposedly capable of rendering the totality of our experience--mental or physical--and, consequently, able to express all our sensations, perceptions, abstractions up to the question of why is there Something instead of Nothing. It is true that no purely verbal language ever entirely achieves total effability: think of having to describe, in words alone, the smell of rosemary. We are always required to supplement language with ostentions, expressive gestures, and so-called 'tonemic' features. Nevertheless, of all semiotic systems, nothing rivals language in its effability. This is why almost all projects for a perfect language start with natural, verbal languages as their model."
    (Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language. Wiley, 1995)

  • "According to [Jerrold Katz], for every thinkable thought there is, in every language, a sentence one of whose senses uniquely corresponds to that thought; if that sentence is used literally and in that sense, then, whatever the context, it expresses that thought. According to this view, every thought is encoded by a sense of some sentence.

    "On this view, it would be possible, at least in principle, to communicate thoughts linguistically without any appeal to inference or context (except, perhaps, for purposes of disambiguation)."
    (D. Sperber and D. Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Wiley, 1995)



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